"I just can't spend the rest of my life running away with him."
Jeff Nichols surprised everyone a few years ago with his excellent film, Take Shelter, and now he delivers another great movie with MUD. Despite being more mainstream than Take Shelter and less artistic, I enjoyed this film more because of the way the story was narrated and the characters were developed. I was blown away with this story and in my opinion it is the best film of the year and my first five star review of the year as well. The screenplay, written by Jeff Nichols, seemed to be taken straight from an unpublished Mark Twain novel. It felt like I was watching a contemporary adventure of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. MUD was fantastic, I felt like it took some of the best elements of some other films like Stand By Me and Sling Blade and improved them. Nichols knows about small southern towns and the location becomes an important character in this superb and suspenseful film. In my opinion MUD is a masterpiece and I could watch it many more times thanks to the way in which Nichols drew me into the story and got me emotionally involved with the characters. It is a very rewarding film if you remain patient and let the story slowly build into what it becomes. It is a character driven film with some powerful performances and some great visuals.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two young teenagers living on the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas. These good friends decide to sneak out of their houses one morning to a small island where Neckbone has spotted a boat on top of a tree. Apparently the boat ended up there after a flood that took place sometime in the past and these kids recently discovered it. Wanting to claim it as their own they climb the tree and to their surprise they discover that someone has been living there. That is when they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey) a fugitive who has been hiding out from the police and some bounty hunters after committing a crime for the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Ellis, who has an idealistic view about love decides to help Mud convinced that their love story is pure. Shaped by Mud's story and love for Juniper, Ellis begins to have feelings of his own for a girl named May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). He really feels the need for Mud and Juniper to be able to escape safely together after seeing how the marriage of his parents, Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), begins to crumble at home.
Matthew McConaughey is superb in this film and in my opinion gives one of the best performances of his career. He has been on quite a role lately with some very interesting roles. I hope he gets nominated for his work here. As much as I enjoyed his performance, I don't know if the movie would have worked without the strong lead performance from the two young kids, especially from Sheridan who is the lead character and through whose eyes we see everything. Sheridan blew me away and I really cared for his character. There is so much depth to his character and we see the range of emotions that he goes through. He is tough but at the same time sweet, he has strong convictions about love but at the same time these convictions are being put to a test. Sheridan nails the role and delivers this film. There are also some strong secondary performances from Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon who plays a very different role here. Shannon's character, Neckbone's uncle, has the funniest scenes and brings some lightness to the story. This is by far the best film I've seen this year. I loved the story, the characters, and the suspense. The attention to southern detail that Nichols makes only improves this film and makes it more emotionally involving than it already is.